The Orioles removed a catcher from their roster yesterday, welcomed back their right fielder, lost another catcher to injury and watched their second baseman limp off the field in the seventh inning. Having Sammy Sosa healthy and beating their former manager on a cold and rainy night was supposed to feel better than this.
With Sosa back in their lineup, the Orioles were more consumed with a broken bone in the back of Javy Lopez's right hand and a fastball that struck Brian Roberts" left knee than a 3-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners that unfolded last night before 19,839 at Camden Yards.
Jay Gibbons homered off Mariners reliever J.J. Putz in the eighth inning, the ball landing in the home bullpen. B.J. Ryan picked up his 13th save, and the Orioles increased their lead over the Boston Red Sox to three games in the AL East.
If only they could have enjoyed the moment.
Bret Boone fouled a ball off Lopez's hand in the third inning, bringing Geronimo Gil into the game and costing the Orioles a former All-Star for an indefinite period. Gil was the only backup on the roster after the club designated Sal Fasano for assignment yesterday to make room for Sosa.
Lopez, who singled in the second inning to leave his average at .278, will visit a hand specialist today. A roster move is forthcoming, and a team official indicated that the Orioles have two options.
Eli Whiteside, the organization's top catching prospect, would be the in-house replacement from Triple-A Ottawa, where he was batting .240 in 31 games. Another scenario involves Fasano passing through waivers, being outrighted to Ottawa and having his contract purchased again by the Orioles, putting him in uniform tonight.
A move involving Fasano wouldn't require a 10-day wait if he clears waivers by 1 p.m.
Still reeling from Lopez's injury, the Orioles lost Roberts after he was hit by a Ron Villone pitch leading off the seventh. Roberts rolled in the dirt, his face twisted in pain, but he stayed in the game until sliding into second base while beating a high throw on Jeff Fiorentino's bunt. Trainers Richie Bancells and Brian Ebel rushed to his aid, and Chris Gomez pinch ran for him.
Behind 2-1, the Orioles loaded the bases with none out when Melvin Mora reached on a bunt single. Miguel Tejada struck out, making him 0-for-4, but Sosa's sacrifice fly tied the game.
Jeff Nelson hit Rafael Palmeiro above the right elbow to load the bases again before Gil grounded out. Palmeiro wasn't hurt, but manager Lee Mazzilli's blood pressure probably spiked.
The only ray of sunshine yesterday came with Sosa's activation from the disabled list, returning the right fielder to the Orioles' lineup, though in the form of a designated hitter for at least one night.
Once feared to be lost to the team for a month, Sosa missed 16 games because of a staph infection in his left foot. The Orioles were 9-7 without him and held onto first place in the AL East.
"Two weeks is a long time to miss a guy like Sosa." Mazzilli said. "To maintain it, that's what we were looking to do. But when this came about, we didn't know how long it was going to be. I think we got lucky, being on the short end of it."
In the opposite dugout, Mike Hargrove had his hands tucked in a blue Mariners jacket to stay warm, his return to Baltimore reminding him of the rainy days in Seattle. Hargrove hadn't been seen around here since the Orioles fired him as manager after the 2003 season. "It's a different view, but it's good to be back." Hargrove said. "I enjoyed my time here and I enjoyed the players that I had here."
Hargrove never managed Bruce Chen, though plenty of other people have been given the opportunity.
Making his first career appearance against the Mariners, Chen gave up two-out singles to Richie Sexson in the first and third innings that scored leadoff hitter Ichiro Suzuki. He left after the seventh, Sosa's sacrifice fly leaving him with no decision.
Chen has lost only once since April 20, though he needed the Orioles to rally in his last start after falling behind 3-0 in the second inning to Kansas City.
Sexson's first single gave the Mariners a 1-0 lead in the first inning, but the Orioles immediately tied the game against Joel Pineiro, getting a one-out walk and stolen base from Fiorentino and a Mora single.